Members of Scottsdale City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, Experience Scottsdale and the NAACP have issued official statements in response to City Councilman Guy Phillips saying “I can’t breathe,” which is becoming a rallying cry for those protesting police brutality, during an anti-mask rally on Wednesday.
A well-known phrase attributed first to Eric Garner, and most recently George Floyd, who died in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck, “I can’t breathe” has ignited national protests in all 50 states fighting for the Black Lives Matter movement since May.
Mr. Phillips uttered the phrase twice prior to removing his face mask in front of Scottsdale City Hall on June 24 during a rally he organized protesting the city’s face mask mandate to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Later that day, Mr. Phillips issued an emailed apology saying he wasn’t trying to make light of what happened to Mr. Floyd.
In the hours and days following Mr. Phillips’ rally, several Scottsdale residents and City Council candidates seeking office this August called for Mr. Phillips’ resignation.
Mayor Jim Lane and Councilmembers Kathy Littlefield and Suzanne Klapp issued individual statements on the matter; while Vice Mayor Solange Whitehead, Linda Milhaven and Virginia Korte issued a joint statement.
“We are angry about Councilman Phillips’ shameful display of ignorance and disrespect. His selfish act and reckless words are unacceptable to this community. We join Mayor Lane, fellow Scottsdale citizens and those from around the world in condemning his rhetoric and his actions,” the joint statement by Ms. Whitehead, Ms. Milhaven and Ms. Korte said.
“Regarding Councilman Phillip’s thoughtless and hurtful comments at his rally: for me, ALL Lives Matter. It does NOT matter what color someone’s skin is, his or her religion, sexual preference, or political affiliation. We all have equal protection under law and that protection needs to be upheld without ridicule or question. To do otherwise is not acceptable in Scottsdale or anywhere else. No one is above the law and I do not approve of anyone disobeying the laws of this city. Both my husband and I are wearing masks as proscribed and mandated by law. We will continue to do so. We urge others to do the same,” Ms. Littlefield’s statement said.
“I am appalled by Councilman Guy Phillips’ use of the term ‘I can’t breathe’ to illustrate his disdain for wearing a mask as ordered by the city recently. He knows well the protesting occurring here and across the country and the use of the ‘I can’t breathe’ term by protesters to condemn the strangulation killing by police of George Floyd. I suggest Councilman Phillips should contemplate the severity of his comments and his actions and the harm he has caused the city locally and nationally. I encourage him to look inward, and his conscience will dictate that he resign from the council,” Ms. Klapp said.
“Councilman Phillips comments at his anti-mask protest rally today at City Hall do not represent the values of our Scottsdale community. I share the profound disappointment expressed by many residents at the words Mr. Phillips chose --– to use the phrase ‘I can’t breathe’ during this moment in time was callous and insensitive. I sincerely hope he understands how wrong that was and offers a sincere apology,” Mr. Lane said.
On Thursday, June 25, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, East Valley branch, sent the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Mr. Lane a written statement.
The letter is signed by East Valley NAACP President Roy Tatem Jr.
Mr. Tatem’s letter calls for the Board of Supervisors and Mr. Lane to “insist that Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips adhere to county and city health mandates, cease encouraging residents to break the law, stop sharing false, racist information about COVID-19, and to stop exploiting George Floyd’s ‘I can’t breathe’ please for his life for personal gain.”
Mr. Tatem also called for Mr. Phillips to resign immediately from City Council --- which has been a common theme for community members.
There have been two change.org petitions created calling for Mr. Phillips resignation, garnering over 9,000 signatures since their creation.
Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce Mark Stanton provided the following written comment to Independent Newsmedia:
“Councilman Guy Phillips is not a member of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to speak out against the grossly insensitive remarks by Councilman Phillips this week. He should have known that ‘I Can’t Breathe’ is a solemn declaration of today’s urgent civil rights movement, both in Scottsdale and across the country. The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce stands with Mayor Lane and the majority of the Scottsdale City Council in condemning Councilman Phillips’ inflammatory rhetoric.”
Experience Scottsdale, the destination tourism arm for the city, posted a lengthy statement to their website, signed by the organization’s leadership.
“We could not stand by our work if we did not believe our visitors and clients, including our black visitors and clients, would feel safe and welcomed in Scottsdale,” Experience Scottsdale states.
“That is why we cannot remain silent about the events of June 24. The statements from an elected official that made light of the tragic death of George Floyd were reprehensible, and they do not reflect the values of our organization or our community. Floyd’s final words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ have become a rallying cry for those spotlighting longstanding racism and racial injustice in our country --- a movement that is long overdue and that Experience Scottsdale supports.”
Gov. Doug Ducey denounced Phillips’ actions on Twitter that evening with a strong statement: “Just flat out wrong. Despicable doesn’t go far enough. The final words of George Floyd should NEVER be invoked like this. Anyone who mocks the murder of a fellow human has no place in public office. Period.”
Mr. Phillips apology on June 24 stated:
“To the family of George Floyd --- I am sorry about a comment I made today that was the same comment Mr. Floyd had made. He didn’t deserve what happened to him and I by no means was trying to make light of it by saying I can’t breathe in a mask. Please accept my sincerest apology and that goes out to anyone who became offended,” Mr. Phillips stated.
Mr. Phillips has not been available for additional comment.